Feminism, Gender Theories and the Power of Memory

Since there is nothing worth blogging about in my present life, let’s put on our wayfarer sunglasses and jean jackets and travel back in time to 1988.   Specifically, January through March at the MSU Union in East Lansing, Michigan.   Here’s a visual so that you can feel Spartan-like:


So, it’s winter term and I’m graduating in June.  I have to take some classes to fill up my sociology concentration and there’s not much to choose from except for this obscure class called Soc 353 – Sociology of Sex and Gender.  I figure, what the heck?  Sounds kind of interesting and it fit into my schedule. 

There are very few classes that I remember in brilliant detail, but this is the exception.  This is something that I’ll never forget – even 21 years later.  It made such an impression on me that I thought I’d share it with you.

The class was comprised of a variety of people including radical feminists (the professor and her assistant fell into that category), a few men and clueless, sheltered 21 year olds, like myself. 

The day that the radical feminists, who had “Ferraro for President” pins on their jackets and sat in the front row, and a big football player started arguing, I knew that I was totally out of my element.  Big Football Player dude stood up and said (I’m paraphrasing here), “I’ve been sitting in this class for half a term and all you do is bash men,”  to which the Radical Feminists in the Front Row stood up and yelled back to him why men suck.   I’m not sure who won that argument – I was too stunned to think clearly.

Things just got more interesting as time went on.  It all culminated in a documentary that we had to watch regarding how pornography was harmful to society. 

It started innocently enough – a sociologist asked a stripper to follow her around the country and see the harm that pornography did to women and children.  The stripper wasn’t so sure that she wanted to quit her profession since she was making good money and didn’t see the harm of taking off her clothes in front of a bunch of leering strangers. 

So, we got to watch as the sociologist showed how the porn industry hurt young runaways girls, added to the drug trade and was generally evil.  The kicker was when she showed the stripper a clip of a “snuff” film (and yes, we got to watch it too).   I think that pretty much did it for the stripper and she vowed to change her sinful ways and get a job that didn’t add to the fall of mankind. 

We all sat in focus groups afterward and I got to hear sobbing women tell how freaked out they were by that whole experience.   I was too shell-shocked to add anything to the conversation and later I asked my boyfriend (who just happens to be Banker Husband) what the hell was it that I had just witnessed.  Needless to say, we were both in awe.   

Our assignments were quite colorful too.  I had to analyze a porn magazine of my choice and discuss how sex sells (ummmm… that was an experience, especially asking my brother-in-law if I could borrow one of his so that I didn’t have to humiliate myself and buy one).  

For another paper, I had to pretend that I was explaining gender differences to an alien (wish I had saved that one).  I read articles by both Phyllis Schlafly and Gloria Steinem and learned about David Reimer long before he took his own tortured life.  So much for the nature vs. nurture debate.

All in all, the Sociology of Sex and Gender was the most memorable class of my college career.  The thing that strikes me all these years later is that I still look back on it with something that I can only describe as detached wonder.  It didn’t make me a radical feminist nor a proponent of social change, at least not in the way that it was presented.  It just made me sit and think about things that I’d never considered before. 

Funny, even after being married and having a family of my own, I still don’t have the answers to the questions that were asked in that class.  I’m guessing that I never will.


One thought on “Feminism, Gender Theories and the Power of Memory

  1. You forgot to mention that the lesbian my friend Blair (a male by the way) took on a date once (before we knew she was a lesbian) was in the class. Oh, the good ole days.

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